Some fear them, some are ready to welcome them with open arms. A question that many wonder is “When will self-driving cars hit the road?”

While we are not any closer to the human-controlled flying cars imagined on The Jetsons, we are making huge leaps in automated technology. Self-driving cars are being tested on closed tracks and public roads in several states. Big names like Ford, General Motors, Honda, Nissan and Toyota are testing the technology in a concept town in Ann Arbor, Michigan on the University of Michigan campus. One day, these cars will be fit to operate in a bustling city like Portland.

Welcome to Mcity, Michigan

Mcity is a pop-up town with real streets, street lights, street signs, sidewalks, crosswalks, and even graffiti that somewhat resembles a movie set. The town is meant to represent the typical American city, but presents more obstacles to drivers than the average town. Things like faded stop signs, hills, tunnels, and near-invisible lane markings challenge the cars’ abilities to react to scenarios found in the real world.

Seeking to weed out weaknesses in fully automated vehicles, Mcity is purposely difficult to navigate. It is a course full of obstacles where manufacturers can create complicated scenarios that are controllable and repeatable to thoroughly test the equipment. On its closed track, carmakers evaluate how self-driving cars react to pedestrians appearing between parked cars or the car’s ability to stay in its own lane when markings are barely visible, or even the car’s ability to properly decipher signals covered in graffiti. Its position in Michigan also makes it the perfect spot to test for various weather events, such as heavy snow or strong wind storms.

Every mile traveled on an Mcity street helps the cars map their environments to boost their navigation ability. Each interaction with a human driver, pedestrian, or cyclist improves their ability to predict common behavior. While Mcity provides a great way to test automated functions, manufacturers are anxious to get the technology on busy public roads to work out the final kinks.

When will Portland be the next “Mcity?”

States like California, Michigan, and Nevada already allow self-driving cars to be tested on public roads. This very track is on a bustling college campus. Yet most states are taking a “wait and see” approach, including Oregon.

As of yet, there are no laws in Oregon permitting fully automated cars to be tested on public roads. A survey by AAA found that just one in five Americans would trust a self-driving car to transport them. The Oregon Department of Transportation would have much to consider to adopt the technology. Driverless vehicles raise several questions, for example “Does a driver need a license to operate a self-driving car?” and “Who is at fault in a self-driving car accident?” These are issues the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles would need to figure out as they grapple with updating the rules of the road. Federal officials have stated that the government will release guidelines on these vehicles in the coming weeks, possibly laying the groundwork for testing in more states.

Why do we need these cars?

The ultimate goal of self-driving cars is to reduce the accident rate 90% by eliminating all crashes caused by human error. Yet car manufacturers have reiterated that developing a car that doesn’t crash is not their biggest challenge — it’s getting these computerized vehicles with perfect behavior to coexist in an imperfect network of roads dominated by unpredictable humans, whether they are other drivers, pedestrians, or cyclists.

Even if all cars on the road become driverless, if these cars allow for their human occupants to override the automated mode, we will continue to see accidents caused by erratic human drivers. A world of fully automated vehicles in which human overlords willingly give up their sense of control over technology is both highly idealistic and unrealistic. And even if this is the case, we must consider that the code on which these cars operate is created by humans who can’t possibly predict every single situation the cars could find themselves in. Still, they could be a boon to greatly reducing traffic accidents and fatalities. They also have vast potential to completely overhaul how people use transportation and how big cities function.

Another advantage that developers see in self-driving cars is their potential to improve our mobility. As cities gradually adapt to the technology, they are working toward creating a shared mobility future in which these cars are part of the greater transportation system, rather than us relying on them as robotic chauffeurs. These cars have the potential to drive to and from destinations without a human in them, which opens up a lot of room for a future in which hardly anyone actually owns a personal vehicle. Cities predict this would lead to vast swaths of empty parking lots, but even more crowded streets.

There is still much speculation about the self-driving cars of the future, but it seems clear that a transportation revolution is on its way. If you or someone you know is injured in a Portland car accident, you may need help receiving the compensation you deserve. Attorney Richard Rizk has worked on both sides of insurance law and can help you get the claim you need. Call (503) 245-5677 or contact info@rizklaw.com for a free consultation.